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New Settlement Reached in Hartford, Conn., Desegregation Case

A new settlement in the long-running school desegregation case in Hartford, Conn., will result in 1,000 more magnet school seats for the city's students, new and renovated schools, and the relocation of three existing magnet schools that are part of the state's and the city's integration programs.

The agreement, approved by a superior court judge this week, stems from a 1989 lawsuit, Sheff v.  O' Neill, a landmark desegregation case filed by parents against the Hartford-area public schools. The Connecticut state Supreme Court in 1996 ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the state to take action to integrate the schools and reduce racial and ethnic segregation.

Since then, the state and city have taken a number of steps to that end, but the progress has not been fast enough, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which, along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Center for Children's Advocacy, and local attorney, Wesley Horton, filed the original case.

Integration programs include the Open Choice system, which allows city students to transfer to suburban schools and vice versa without any cost to the parents; part-time interdistrict exchange programs; and interdistrict magnet schools. As a result, 42 percent of the city's students attend integrated schools, according to the ACLU, and more than 5,400 Hartford students and 8,000 suburban students attend 37 magnet schools.

The Hartford Courant reported that last fall, 47.5 percent of Hartford's minority students attended integrated schools.

The new settlement covers the 2015-16 school year and is an extension of the one currently in place. Based on that agreement, the city will also add 325 new Open Choice seats in suburban school districts, and seek to have the incoming classes at the magnet schools be comprised of 50 percent Hartford students.

The agreement must be approved by the state legislature. The Hartford Courant reports that the changes in the settlement could cost the state millions, and that programs to comply with the Sheff ruling have surpassed $2 billion. 

The parties must also meet with a mediator to come up with future agreements to comply with the court ruling. If an agreement is not reached by Aug. 1, the plaintiffs can go back to court to seek redress. (The full agreement can be read here.)

In a media release, the ACLU said the settlement agreement is a step toward all children having access to a quality education.

"We're frustrated at the pace of the implementation of the Sheff court mandate, but are pleased that this latest agreement moves the needle forward in terms of expanding the educational opportunities for hundreds more Hartford students who would otherwise be relegated to racially and ethnically isolated poor-performing schools," Martha Stone, the executive director of the Center for Children's Advocacy, said in the release.

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